We’ve all experienced it at one time or another, those outlandish bank fees – overdraft fees, and NSF charges and the monthly maintenance fees. And what do we get from our banks in return? More fees when we travel abroad.
Yes, those overseas fees can and will surprise you. Anything to literally rob us of our cash, is generally called a bank...
A friend of mine was shocked to find out that while traveling to Mexico for a weekend vacation, she incurred fees that she had no idea existed. Each time she withdrew cash from the ATM, which she mentioned was in her ‘Cirrus’ network that her bank belongs to, she was told she’d incur a $3.00 fee to withdraw cash. However, she was charged an extra 3.5% in service fees by the bank, which over that short weekend amounted to nearly $100.00.
When she called her bank, this was the explanation she received: 'A fee of $3.00 will be charged for each CIRRUS ATM transaction occurring outside the United States. Additionally, a conversion assessment of 3.5% will be added to the currency conversion rate in effect between Credit Card and (Bank) to convert the international Check Card withdrawals and transactions to U.S. dollars. We apologize for any inconvenience these fees may cause.'
Now I am certain, someplace in that little fine print, that bank explained these fees to us, but who the heck has time to read each and every little ‘fine-print’ paragraph?
It is common practice that banks charge 2% fees on credit and debit card purchases overseas. They also charge a 1% conversion rate for exchange rates, and on top of that, they charge from $1.50 to $3.00 to get cash from an ATM. This can get mighty expensive when you are gone for a few weeks.
Tracking down which credit cards or debit cards charge these exuberant fees is worth the effort before making that trip overseas. My suggestion? Leave the hefty credit card fees at home.
Something to be aware of, though, is that most fees charged at exchange counters can be much more costly than credit card fees. Some exchange counters in overseas banks can charge from 5 to 8% in fees, so you will need a credit and debit card, but use them sparingly.
There are banks that don’t charge any foreign currency conversion rates, such as credit unions or community banks. Might want to look into opening an account with them prior to your trip.
When visiting ATM’s in foreign countries, make large withdrawals, from $200 to $300.00 at a time, to avoid the fees incurred in smaller and more frequent withdrawals. You can even ask your bank to increase the limit of cash withdrawals at one time. This will save you fees as well.
Look into opening an account with a bank that has branches overseas, or at least has partnerships with overseas banks, so the fees for ATM withdrawals can be avoided. Bank of American has branches overseas, and so do other major banks.
Also, there are credit cards out there that do not charge foreign exchange rate fees. The most common ones are Capital One, Chase, or Discover. They will be worth their weight in gold when you avoid that 3% exchange rate fee.
Searching for the best exchange rate can be beneficial as well. Knowing what the common exchange rates are for each country you visit will help tremendously. When you use your debit or credit card for purchases, the exchange rate charged to these companies is generally fair, but to be sure, know the rates.
Contacting your bank to save you embarrassment, and more fees is mandatory when going overseas. If you’re in a restaurant trying to pay for a meal, and the bank sees a charge coming from Paris, France – they can very quickly put a block on your credit card, and the hassle and time spent trying to remove this block could be costly time wise, as well as in phone charges and more fees.
Get a list of ATM’s and banks before getting to your destination. Your bank should be able to supply you with this information. Remember, you might have a bit of trouble reading the information in a foreign language so the more you can do in your home town, the better.
Check with your bank to be certain that the magnetic strip cards will be accepted where you are going - or if they can issue you a Chip and Pin credit card for your travel abroad, because a huge percentage of restaurants, hotels and stores overseas do not take magnetic strip cards any longer.
Last but not least, make sure you take an ample supply of traveler’s checks, or cash with you. You may end up in some remote area, exploring, where cash is the only tender taken. Plus, you never know when you will need cash.
After having done all of these things, you can relax and enjoy yourself! Why have hassles overseas when all you are trying to do is have some fun!
Cathy is part of the team that manages and maintains Australian Credit Cards, a personal finance blog about travel money cards based in Sydney, Australia. Before she joined ACC, she was a staff nurse at Clark Airbase Hospital and conducted lectures on First Aid, Bio-terrorism and Disaster Management.
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